I was once a rather quiet internet user.
I would check out Facebook from time to time. I have a twitter account, but it was for following not tweeting. It was a great way for me to keep up with writers I liked and have opinions I valued sent directly to me.
I was passively involved.
And now I’m not.
I’m not sure exactly what’s changed. Well that’s not true I know what’s changed, I’m no longer passive. The more interesting question is why the change?
It’s not like there wasn’t always things on Facebook I found offensive or ideas on twitter that were repulsive to me. It does feel like there are more ideas out there I struggle with but I suspect that’s more a shift in me than it is a shift in ideas.
And that’s not a passing point to miss.
While I suppose you could argue that the ideas out there are getting worse, I think it would be hard. I think the ideas are the same and I’m different and in two really important ways.
To start I’m seeing things through some very different lenses than ever before. I’m understanding more how little I know and I think that has helped me to seek out ideas that before I would never even believe existed let alone give time or energy to considering.
Take saying Merry Christmas for instance.
Years ago it’s not that I understood the offense and presumption that comes with declaring Merry Christmas to everyone no matter what and still choose to do it. It’s that I couldn’t even conceive of a reason why I shouldn’t do it. There was no reason.
It’s a blessing.
It’s part of our Canadian culture and heritage.
It’s the truth of God.
It’s my right.
As I look back now, there is a sense of shame and frustration that I missed something that appears so clear to me now. That fact that in face of people saying its offensive my response was “your wrong don’t be offended” or worse, “I don’t need to care,” was the height of privilege. Not that I was just dismissive but ambivalent and antagonist to the idea that people who thought different than me had ideas that even mattered is frankly disgusting.
The reality was that in the face of people expressing their frustration and offense all I could hear or care about was my own. To look inward and say not only should this not offend you, I get to choose for you what is and is not offensive.
Because if it was offensive and I cared about people the way I said I did, it should matter. So it was easier to write it off as not offensive. To make a stand on their experience rather than be retrospective on why I felt so empowered to set standards for others.
It’s taken years of reflection and a gradual exposure to voices I would never have considered before to see how narrow my lens was.
The push was when the lens stopped working. When the world stopped making sense and I couldn’t find a way to see any more. I’ve talked about it before but the loss of my father was exceptionally formative in my journey. It forced me to look at life and faith and the world in a way I would have never chosen on my own.
It shattered my world in ways its still hard to describe.
But the idea that Merry Christmas could be offensive would never fit in my old view. They were just wrong, it wasn’t offensive. That old lens never even allowed for the idea to be worth considering. It was so obviously and completely wrong I could not only dismiss the idea out of hand but worse, dismiss the people who would promote that we consider the offense just as easily.
They were any number of labels that made it easy to write them off.
But my need to find a lens that allowed for my new experience of loss opened me up to so much more. I couldn’t just transport in a new lens that allowed me to process the loss without slowly seeing more through that new lens.
If these new people and new ideas had something in them that resonated with my soul in regard to loss I could no longer dismiss all they said out of hand. It wasn’t all wrong anymore and I had to critically engage with the ideas on their own merit not just place them under whatever label made it easy to never hear them.
These new ideas showed Jesus in a new light. It opened Him up from just being something to defend to someone to followed. It was no longer about defending the script. I was no longer interested in protecting the church as it stood but being the church as it was described. And that church had space for a lot more than I was ever willing to bring in.
So I think it’s these new lenses that scream out to me as I read Facebook and Twitter. The idea that I possess privilege changes how I read statuses. The lived reality of the poor in my communities changes how I see my time and money and the way I hear people talk about theirs. Hearing the stories of how so many minorities are treated and live day to day has opened my eyes to the implicit and casual racism that runs deep in myself and through the conversations and topics on Facebook.
The radical nature of an other centred love ethic has caused me to see it all so differently. I’m ashamed in a lot of ways to say it but, people matter now in a way that they never did before. It’s sad and horrible but true. I talked like they mattered, but they didn’t. Their experience, pain, trauma didn’t matter, at least not enough for me to consider that I could be wrong or that their stories were worth hearing.
And so when I spend time on Facebook and Twitter I become at times overwhelmed with grief. When I see the defense of our way. When I see the perpetuation of our way. When I hear the desire to get back to our way.
Because it’s our way so much more than its Christ’s way.
And the more I see how much of it is me, my culture, my circle or community, my history, my desire, rather than the stark and blatant calls of Christ the more I’m grieved.
The realization that I am in so many ways indoctrinated and have such huge biases was however just the start. Becoming more and more aware of those biases is one thing, but seeing it in myself wasn’t what changed my online person as it were.
There was a second fundamental shift happening in me.